In 1985, a full five years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted by Congress, a group of Flathead residents banded together to make outdoor activities more accessible to people with disabilities. Dottie Maitland was operating a tour company at the time and discovered the inaccessibility to hotels, public parks and recreational sites for the disabled. Joined by Jane Lopp and Larry Dominick, they traveled to Washington D.C. and met with the United States Access Board – a federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities. The information they gathered from the trip would shape the way the group would operate and define their mission to make public places in the Flathead accessible to people with disabilities. After the trip, Larry McMillian, who was in a wheelchair, joined the group along with Dennis Jones who had worked with the Big Mountain ski program.
One of the first projects chosen by the group was working with Glacier National Park to create the wheelchair accessible, “Trail of the Cedars” hiking trail. The nature trail winds through a hemlock forest to Avalanche Gorge and has become the most visited trail in Glacier National Park – with more than half of all visitors (over one million) enjoying the trail each year.
Other early projects included putting in a wheelchair accessible trail at Woodland Park in Kalispell, producing an accessibility guide for all tourism-related businesses in the state and providing demonstrations at large events of the meaning of living with physical disabilities.
DREAM then acquired adaptive snow skiing equipment and began offering alpine skiing to persons with disabilities at Big Mountain (now Whitefish Mountain Resort). The DREAM program was patterned after the original and now world famous, adaptive program at Winter Park, Colorado.
What started as a small non-profit organization helping a small number of adults and children with disabilities has continued to grow annually. In 2009, DREAM expanded its winter program by adding summer adaptive recreation opportunities. Each year, more activities are added to make the outdoors accessible year round by participants.
DREAM is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization supported by two-year round staff, two-winter assistants, and 150+ volunteers.